Home care providers and senior living community operators have asked the Labor Department to exempt millions of workers in those industries from new paid sick and family leave requirements during the Covid-19 emergency.
Industry groups on Monday asked the DOL to include them in a “health care provider” exemption to the new leave obligations. The department is drafting regulations that would establish eligibility standards for the exemption, as well as a separate shield for certain businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t think those people who are providing care in the home shouldn’t be protected in this effort, regarding the pandemic. But as workers, they are needed,” said William Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, whose members employ some 2.5 million workers.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Public Law 116-127), signed into law by President
Five groups representing home care and senior living industries want upcoming Labor Department rules that interpret the new law to identify their workers as “health care providers” rather than “eligible employees” under the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. Doing so would make millions of these workers ineligible for both the new paid sick leave and partially paid family and medical time off.
Industry representatives are “gravely concerned” that complying with the law could leave the nation without “an available workforce able to deliver much needed home health and residential care,” during the Covid-19 pandemic, the groups said in public comments filed with the Labor Department.
The home care industry is “siding with their bottom line rather than the health and safety and financial well-being of home care workers,” said April Verrett, chair of the national home care council at the Service Employees International Union, which represents 740,000 home care workers nationwide.
The industry would do more to ensure an adequate workforce by raising pay and providing benefits to their employees, Verrett said. The workers risk infecting patients and themselves every day on the job, she added.
Many of the home-care workers represented by SEIU help patients bathe, dress, eat, walk and exercise. They are 90% female and most are women of color, Verrett said. She said the industry should be working to protect these employees with more personal protective gear, more training about the virus, paid sick leave, and priority screening at no cost for the coronavirus.
Verrett said the union is still analyzing the new law and hasn’t decided whether to provide a comment letter.
Staffing Shortages Concern
Dombi said skilled and non-professional workers alike should be ineligible for the new paid leave protections. That includes nurses, physical therapists, speech pathologists, personal care attendants, and even hospice chaplains, according to the NAHC.
Any home care employee who provides preventive care, companionship, help with daily living activities, hospice services, or skilled medical services, should be available to work, the groups argue.
Senior residential communities and home care providers both faced staffing shortages during the 2008 recession “when broad-based extensions of benefits to displaced workers resulted in a lack of available workers to deliver critical care,” said the comment letter, which was filed by Littler Mendelson attorneys Michael Lotito and James Paretti.
Without adequate staffing for home and residential care, seniors and frail patients could wind up in hospitals and nursing homes just as both facilities struggle to contain and fight Covid-19, the groups said.
Joining NAHC in the filing were the American Seniors Housing Association and the Home Care Association of America, whose nearly 3,000 member companies employ more than 500,000 caregivers nationwide. The International Franchise Association also joined in the filing along with Argentum, a national association that supports companies that mange senior living facilities.